Ernesto Valverde faces his first test as manager of Valencia as he leads the La Liga club into their final group game in the Champions League against Lille tonight, and the pressure will be less intense for the new boss as his side have already secured at least second place in Group F.
But the Spaniard side will be looking to go one better than that and win the group, but to do so they have to better Bayern Munich’s result when they host BATE Borisov in order to leapfrog then into first place.
Valencia have been unable to replicate their impressive Champions League form in La Liga this season, and they are currently sitting in 12th position after Saturday’s 5-2 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad.
That match was the final straw for Valencia who consequently sacked coach Mauricio Pellegrino after the game as he paid the price for the club’s poor league form.
Valverde, the past manager of clubs including Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Villarreal, has signed a deal which keeps him in charge until the end of the season, so he will be looking to earn himself a longer contract by getting off to a winning start against French club Lille.
“This is the first time that I’ve taken charge of a team in the middle of the season. It is definitely not going to be an easy task and never is when a manager joins a team under these circumstances,” said the 48-year-old.
“I don’t want people to take me saying that there is a problem as an attack on anyone. I think that would be showing a lack of respect to the previous manager and I don’t want to do that. I respect him immensely.
“There is a good squad here, capable of doing good things. I will try to transmit the idea of Valencia that I have to the players and the possibilities that they have,” the new Valencia boss continued.
“Our aim is to get into the Champions League and that continues to be so.”
Valverde will be unable to call upon striker Roberto Soldado as the player serves a suspension, and he will also have to make do without defender Joao Pereira who is missing through his calf injury.
Valencia will visit Lille with optimism as the French side have suffered an abysmal European campaign so far and cannot lift themselves from the bottom of the table even with a victory.
Although, Lille did register their first points in the group in the last set of fixtures when they beat BATE Borisov and they will be looking to make their points tally more respectable by picking up another win against their Spanish opponents.
Lille boss Rudi Garcia will be able to call upon the services of former Chelsea player Salomon Kalou as he returns from injury, and Marvin Martin also returns from the sidelines, but Tulio de Melo and Ryan Mendes are still out injured and Benoit Pedretti and Djibril Sidibe are suspended.